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Monday, July 20, 2009

Henry Louis Gates arrested 



Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was arrested today while trying to gain entrance into his locked house near Harvard University, where he teaches. Dr. Gates is a leading African-American scholar, and was among the first recipients of the MacArthur Fellows Program "Genius Awards" in 1981.
"Police say they were called to the home Thursday afternoon after a woman reported seeing a man try to pry open the front door.

"They say that they ordered the man to identify himself and that Gates refused. According to a police report, Gates then called the officer a racist and said, 'This is what happens to black men in America.'"
I understand that Dr. Gates might have a philosophical problem with identifying himself to the police, but in that particular circumstance, wouldn't the police actually be able to assist him? In that situation, I would say, "Great to see you, officer, I've locked myself out. My name is Mr. 81, and I can provide you with a photo ID once I'm in the house. There's a second story window open if you can get up there and through it, and then walk downstairs and open the door."

Whatever legitimate issues or grievances Dr. Gates might have with the history of the Boston or Cambridge police, this incident sounds as though it was entirely avoidable (setting aside for the moment that it is possible that the woman making the report may or may not have made the same report had she seen a white man trying to pry open the front door). If Dr. Gates had ID on his person, he could have presented it and then asked the police to leave, unless they had a warrant. If he wanted access to his house, they possibly could have helped, perhaps even contacting a locksmith for him (if he did not have a mobile phone with him).

I have spent a fair amount of time in Cambridge over the past decade, and it is one of the most politically correct towns in America. Accusing the police of being racist because Dr. Gates wouldn't identify himself -- given the circumstances of being observed trying to pry open a door -- strikes me as kind of silly, particularly for a smart man. Dr. Gates is a respected scholar with a nice income (much greater than anyone in the police department) and a tenured position. Does he really need to prove a legal point about responding to an ID request or possibly creating a incident where there need not be one? This appears to be creating a mountain out of a mole hill, and I say that as a blogger who has posted about DWB incidents, so, as always, I try to call 'em as I see 'em. Or am I just a white guy with no clue?


UPDATE: The Harvard Crimson story has more details than the AP report linked above. There are also additional descriptions of the incident in the comments. The arrest was for disorderly conduct after Dr. Gates had gained access to his house (and provided his Harvard ID after initially refusing), and then went back out onto the porch as an argument progressed with a police Sergeant. The woman who first made the call to the police observed "two black males with backpacks on Gates' porch attempting to force entry through the front door," though it is unclear from the police report whether either person was Dr. Gates (a Crimson commenter states that it was Gates and his taxi driver.) Once Dr. Gates had established his ID, I am not sure why he simply didn't ask the police to leave his property, rather than continuing to argue with them, including a quite incendiary "mama" comment he made as a policeman was exiting the front door. Such behavior does appear to be out of character for Dr. Gates.


UPDATE #2: The follow-up AP piece provides more details, and also indicates that Dr. Gates was not in good health, having some sort of infection. The woman who reported the incident to police is an employee of Harvard Magazine, which has its offices down the street from the residence. Police arrived after Dr. Gates was in his house, so it is still unclear why there needed to be an incident. In that situation, I would have produced my photo ID upon request so that the policeman could be on his way and attend to more important matters. The policeman should have left as soon as he established that the man in the house was Dr. Gates and that he was the resident, regardless of the tone of the conversation at that point. So, there is some responsibility for this incident on both sides of the equation. Thanks to Anon 11:45, here is the link for Charles Ogletree's statement on behalf of Dr. Gates, noting that the statement omits the part in the AP article stating that Dr. Gates initially refused to provide a picture ID (which perhaps was a trigger for the entire blow-up).


UPDATE #3: Charges dropped.


UPDATE #4: For those commenters desperately seeking Christopher Chambers, he kindly provided this link (in a comment to a post above) to an article in The Root written by Dr. Gates' Harvard colleague, Lawrence Bobo. Both the article and the comments are worth reading, and there is a good picture of a very nice Cambridge house.

29 Comments:

By Blogger Maguro, at Mon Jul 20, 03:51:00 PM:

Lawsuit time, baby! How much will Gates's pain and suffering cost the taxpayers of Cambridge?  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Mon Jul 20, 04:02:00 PM:

Clearly, breaking into a home unchallenged is a civil right. Or it should be, as long as you're black.

It's stupid shit like this that causes people to immediately think 'yeah, right' in instances of actual racism.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 20, 04:15:00 PM:

And then there's the kind of genius that can't change a light bulb.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 20, 04:17:00 PM:

It's the cop's job to arrest a person breaking into a house. Period, end of story.

Whining that it's because he's black is just bullsh*t. Now, if they'd put the knuckles to him, or pumped a few rounds in, that'd be different. Of course, the colored guy would have had to resist arrest to get the beatdown.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 20, 04:27:00 PM:

Also in Cambridge / Alston MA ... we had a batchelor party for a guy from our rugby team during the summertime. There was some roughousing that among others involved a Harvard B School professor. Later that evening Norm was caught breaking into his own office -- strangely wearing no shirt, but still sporting the sleeves from what had been his shirt. Like Prof Gates, he had some 'splaining to do.  

By Anonymous Boludo Tejano, at Mon Jul 20, 04:28:00 PM:

My sister left her key for me under a rock when I came to visit her while she was out running an errand. Unfortunately, she forgot to inform me that she had changed the code for turning off her security alarm. The result being that the alarm went off after I entered, and continued until a policeman came. This was before the cell phone era, so there was no way to contact my sister.

I was VERY glad to show the policeman my ID, since my then-single sister and I had the same surname. The policeman looked at my ID, phoned in that “he obviously belongs here,” and got the alarm turned off.  

By Anonymous JT, at Mon Jul 20, 04:37:00 PM:

Was it a Steve Martin routine with "super genius"?

Seems to me that a 'genius' would stash a key somewhere in the outside chance of locking himself out of his crib. Leave one with a neighbor, tucked in the garage accessible via the keypad for the alarm/door opener ...  

By Anonymous Gridley, at Mon Jul 20, 05:38:00 PM:

I found myself in a similar situation (Having to break into my own home) just a few weeks ago and I was completely under the impression that if someone saw me and the cops showed up that I would (and should) be interrogated and detained until I could prove that my actions were legitimate.
Any reasonable person who sees someone trying to enter a home through other than conventional means has, in my mind, a duty to report such an action to the police. Likewise, the police have a duty to respond and act under the assumption that the acts are in fact illegitimate until they can safely ascertain otherwise. If the police in this situation had acted in any other manner it would have been a dereliction of duty worthy of them being relieved.  

By Blogger Joshua, at Mon Jul 20, 06:48:00 PM:

Cambridge [...] is one of the most politically correct towns in America. Accusing the police of being racist because Dr. Gates wouldn't identify himself -- given the circumstances of being observed trying to pry open a door -- strikes me as kind of silly[...]

Au contraire... if Cambridge really is as PC as you claim, Gates probably figures that by crying 'Racism!' he can shake the city down for a few thousand dollars at least, and they'll deliver it with a profuse public apology. Nothing like a little free money.  

By Anonymous Dave the Kapampangan, at Mon Jul 20, 07:04:00 PM:

Let me guess...."And then, strangely enough, a REAL burglar showed up. But the police just thought it was another of Gates' relatives, trying to hit the city up for more free lunch money with another bogus racism lawsuit. Unfortunately, the police had by then been programmed by Gates to ignore common sense, and Gates came home to find that everything was missing but the kitchen sink."  

By Anonymous Squealer, at Mon Jul 20, 08:35:00 PM:

Context is everything. Perhaps it is as you say, but if he was slammed and handcuffed before being allowed to explain what he was doing, then one might not expect him to be so helpful. I have to wonder how many of the commenters here have been cuffed and questioned by police.  

By Anonymous Quoizel, at Mon Jul 20, 08:56:00 PM:

I don't think that we should bull the racism card yet. I read the report and it states that he was aproaching the police yelling and screaming. Does excuse the arrest but maybe this was the only way to calm him down.  

By Anonymous Pasquin, at Mon Jul 20, 08:56:00 PM:

Where is Christopher Chambers when we need him?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 20, 10:05:00 PM:

Just got finished taking an unofficial tour of Harvard on Saturday with "Hahvard" Tours. Much of the presentation was about how the town of Cambridge hates Harvard U and vice versa. But, the tour guide also said while Harvard (students and staff) voted about 70% democrat in the last election, the town of Cambridge went democrat about 85% of the time. It's not likeley this is racial. It is more likely that the Cambridge civil service can't stand self-righteous A$$holes.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Mon Jul 20, 11:10:00 PM:

Quoizel, point taken. From the information we have, it looks as if Gates could have avoided this with even less-than-ordinary civility. However - There may be missing pieces of the story which would change our judgment.  

By Blogger JPMcT, at Tue Jul 21, 12:49:00 AM:

Humph...Racism effectively died out a long time ago.

What we have here is pure, crystalline Victimhood.

That's apparrently a permanent fixture in our society.  

By Blogger Neil Sinhababu, at Tue Jul 21, 04:46:00 AM:

After reading the Crimson article, the behavior of the police strikes me as ridiculous. Once you see that the guy actually owns the house, there's no crime being committed and your job is done. Just leave the scene. If he says some mean things to you, brush it off and go.

Instead, they arrested him. Gates may have gotten more furious than necessary about things, but that had better not be a crime or most bloggers are going to be in prison.  

By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Tue Jul 21, 09:36:00 AM:

The whole escalation is a shame, but not atypical and certainly not racial. In fact, i have on several occasions seen wealthy and successful folks of varied backgrounds (including white) berate and cops verbally when they feel wrongly accosted by the authorities.

The fact is, Gates could have responded to the officers by showing his ID, validated his presence/ownership, and then profusely thanked the cops for looking at for his property. Asked them if they'd like a coke or something. Instead, he went off and forced the cops to stick him with a dis con (which I promise you they did not want to do to a 58 year old black Harvard professor). I can't tell you how regularly that happens, especially around bars, when the privileged deal with authority.

Gates is a member of a privileged class, and the race thing is frankly utter nonsense. cops are not privileged, and it rankles them to have somebody quesiton their authority and rail about their "mama."  

By Blogger Georgfelis, at Tue Jul 21, 10:54:00 AM:

There is one thing missing from this report that I noticed.

How much alcohol was involved?

Think about it for a second. One of your neighbors comes home, by cab, without his keys, gets caught by the cops breaking in, and proceeds to verbally berate the cops until he is arrested. It doesn't take much application of Occam's Razor for it to make sense.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jul 21, 11:45:00 AM:

Professor Gates lawyer, Charles Ogletree, has released a statement describing the incident. From the brief set of facts as they are related by Prof. Gates' statement I'd say there is certainly a basis for more questions. Until those questions have been asked and answered I wouldn't want to make a bet on who is right and who is wrong in this instance.

As a blog style matter, can the TH blog have expanding posts (you often see other blogs use the device, maybe saying "more, here" or "more below the fold" etc.) Many posts, like this one, include lots of minutia that could be constracted and not read more than once. Just a suggestion.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jul 21, 11:47:00 AM:

that was meant to be "contracted".  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jul 21, 05:30:00 PM:

Pasquin: "Where is Christopher Chambers when we need him?"

I dunno, in police custody?

David  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jul 21, 05:42:00 PM:

By the way, this same thing happened to me a few years ago in Palo Alto. I cheerfully produced ID, and thanked the cop for looking out for the neighborhood.

So yes, this does happen to People of Colorlessness. To escalate it, though, is not too smart.

David  

By Anonymous Billy Bob Corncob, at Wed Jul 22, 01:43:00 AM:

I am fairly confident I have more experience than any of your readings with criminal procedure, inner city cops, agents and officers, and the law in this area. I have handled over 60 appeals on behalf of the United States, prepared detailed outlines for two US Attorneys' Offices on DC Circuit and Ninth Circuit law on 4th, 5th and 6th Amendment issues; taught at the US DOJ's appellate advocacy institute; and argued cases in front of the DC Circuit, 9th Circuit, and DC Court of Appeals.

This is a fairly simple issue.

Once the resident of the home claimed to be a resident; and a fortiori provided ID - even if initially refusing - the police had an obligation to check out the information that would completely negate any inference of probable cause. Else their arrest violated the Constitution. Period.

Let me add a note that places a color on the episode often forgotten. Warrantless arrests are the exception to the rule. The general rule is that one must obtain the blessing of a magistrate. But we do not want police behaving so cavalierly. They have tremendous power; it must be used within constraints. The purpose of some of the rules, like section 1983 liability, is to deter police misconduct.

Having seen officers who misbehaved, on many occasions, up close and in a work context, it is quite clear to me that they need incentives to behave correctly and professionally. At the far end of the spectrum, but not unheard of, are people who go to jail who shouldn't. This is almost always the result of bad police work; often a cavalier attitude on the part of the police for that part of their job, which is to enforce not just the criminal code but also the laws governing criminal procedure.

When I tried cases in DC, the misbehavior of a few reckless cops infected my jury pools with distrust.

We don't need cowboy cops. The cops are supposed to be the professionals in these settings. If they are unsure, they should call in a Lieutenant.

Focusing on the well-educated professor, who is largely ignorant of his rights, and faced with force majeure, seems to be a mistake here. If you'd seen what I've seen - and I'm not a critic of law enforcement writ large - you'd understand.

A few bad apples....  

By Blogger kreiz1, at Wed Jul 22, 06:00:00 PM:

Once the resident of the home claimed to be a resident; and a fortiori provided ID - even if initially refusing - the police had an obligation to check out the information that would completely negate any inference of probable cause. Else their arrest violated the Constitution. Period.

Makes perfect sense to me.  

By Blogger DADAILYNEWZ, at Thu Jul 23, 05:51:00 PM:

This is a video I made about the incident, check it out.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QBGqFtYWTHo

Thanks Guys  

By Blogger ..., at Thu Jul 23, 10:01:00 PM:

Gates was arrested for Disorderly Conduct ... all you "lawyers" take not, no warrant needed ...
The officer who arrest Gates TEACHES racial profiling at the Police Academy ...
Gates is apparently a moron, an elitist and a bit of a fool ...
Isn't it the African American community that makes a big deal about "respect" ?
Seems to me Gates disrespected the police ...

the rumor is that there is an audio recording of the event from the officers radio being left on ... probably to cover his as* in case he was accused on anything ...  

By Anonymous cheap phantom of the opera, at Wed Aug 04, 06:26:00 AM:

Whatever legitimate issues or grievances Dr. Gates might have with the history of the Boston or Cambridge police, this incident sounds as though it was entirely avoidable (setting aside for the moment that it is possible that the woman making the report may or may not have made the same report had she seen a white man trying to pry open the front door). If Dr. Gates had ID on his person, he could have presented it and then asked the police to leave, unless they had a warrant. If he wanted access to his house, they possibly could have helped, perhaps even contacting a locksmith for him (if he did not have a mobile phone with him)  

By Anonymous Banana Republic perfume, at Thu Sep 09, 04:33:00 AM:

Once the resident of the home claimed to be a resident; and a fortiori provided ID - even if initially refusing - the police had an obligation to check out the information that would completely negate any inference of probable cause. Else their arrest violated the Constitution. Period  

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